Vocation as a “Worthy Dream”
A Sacred Voice is Calling: Personal Vocation and Social Conscience is a remarkable book. John Neafsey argues that vocation is the seeking and finding of a “worthy dream” that makes all other possible options for spending one’s life pale in comparison. Social justice is a key component of vocation for all Christians since it flows from our call at Baptism and Confirmation to proclaim and make present the Kingdom of Heaven, God’s reign of peace and justice. Ordained ministry or a consecrated religious life might be that worthy dream for some. For others, the worthy dream will lead to a very different life path. All are calls to vocation.
Vocation Just for a Few?
Before and to some extent even after Vatican II, the notion of vocation was focused on ordained ministry or consecrated religious life. Vocation directors were and still are official recruiters for dioceses and religious orders. Today, when we hear of the “vocation crisis” or the shortage of “vocations”, the general reference is to the decline in the number of priests, brothers, and nuns.
While the concept of vocation continues to be applied more commonly to that of ordained or consecrated individuals, Neafsey demonstrates that Vatican II is gradually changing our understanding of what a vocation is. The concept of vocation as a sacred calling is developing today based on newly emerging understandings of human development, the Church itself, and our scriptural calling to live out the Good News. In particular, working toward social justice is a key component of any vocation and plays a primary role in deepening our relationship with God.
Vocation as a worthy dream for all
Neafsey’s notion of vocation as a worthy dream is radically different from the more static pre-Vatican II notion of becoming a priest or a consecrated religious. Limiting the concept of vocation to priests and religious is not optimal in a faith community in which all are seen as called and gifted: the community as presented in the Vatican II documents, particularly Gaudium et Spes (On the Church in the Modern World) and Lumen Gentium (On the Church). The worthy dream may indeed take one person on the path of servant leadership as a priest or deacon, but the worthy dream is the result of a perpetual vision quest and may lead another to a different path. This path of the servant leader is also the path of charity and of justice shared by all. It is our participation in the ministry of the Risen Christ.
Our lives in the Trinity are dynamic love encounters of each moment in chronological time (chronos) with God’s designated moment of divine action (kairos). Our calling to live fully in the Trinity is all about the agony and the ecstasy of falling, being, and remaining in love. Certainly, there is a close connection between our special gifts and talents or charisms and the Church as a structured community, since our gifts flow from the Holy Spirit. Working out our vocations is not necessarily free of conflict, doubt, and suffering. Yet we are called in Christ to the messiness of relationships with others in a relational God. We have only to read the letters of St. Paul to see that this is nothing new.
Yes, we need “vocations” as an institution, but in another sense “vocations” don’t exist. Spirit-filled, joyous people, however, do exist. By encouraging, nourishing, and loving each other, we are part of a larger cosmic focus of Divine Love that brings and holds everything in being. Dancing in that love is vocation. As an organization, all we have to do is to be open not to a job applicant but to someone on fire in Divine Love. Then we will be open to the Christ in our midst. Any other talk of vocation is merely a temptation to careerism, clericalism, or conceit.
Just as married love is a vision, a reality, a dream, and an ongoing quest, the same is true of the experience of hearing, hoping, believing, and the joyous union that is “vocation” in the more traditional sense. This notion of being in love with God and being called deeper may sound “non-traditional”. However, we have to look no further than the Scriptures and the tradition of the Church to realize how much the notion of the Church – the assembly of the faithful – as a modern industrial organization with job descriptions is a novel folly. It is certainly understandable due to our experience of government agencies and corporations that we might look at vocations as filling job positions. Unfortunately, we can lose sight of the sacred dimensions of the Church as a charismatic community incarnated into a human world and caught up in the divine spiral toward the Omega Point of fulfillment in Christ.
The gift of a worthy dream will take many shapes and forms. To be of service to others in teaching, healthcare, music, the arts, exploring nanotechnology, or astrobiology can be a worthy dream, taking many twists and turns. The same is true in ministry. We present ourselves to the community and test whether our deepest gladness meets the deepest need. We test the spirits that may be affecting us in discernment, and follow the Spirit in the Mystical Body of Christ that is the Church.
For more of Neafsey’s insights on vocation, read this interview from Programs for the Theological Exploration of Vocation.